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Engaged Scholarship

During the summer school and the conference I recently attended, the topic was engaged scholarship. Since Van de Ven published his book [1] in 2007, this topic has been broadly discussed, especially in the Scandinavia information systems community. Reason enough for me to take a closer look at the book and a brief explanation, why it makes a lot of noise in northern Europe.

Any researcher’s target is to advance the body of knowledge, but also to enlighten practice of a profession. The gap between theory and practice is a sign that this did not always work satisfactorily. With engaged scholarship Van de Ven describes an approach that should help this dilemma. He wants to support the collaboration between researchers and practitioners. Engaged scholarship does not understand research as a solitary exercise, but as a combined effort.

the more complex the problem or the bigger the research question, the greater the level of engagement is required of researchers from different disciplines and practitioners with different functional experiences.
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Four research activities should take part during a research, according to his ideas: problem formulation, theory building, research design and problem solving. He points out that these are not held in any specific order. Sometimes, it even makes sense to have a two in parallel. Additionally it can be beneficial or even required to conduct several iterations and revisions of the research activities.

As space is very limited here, I can only provide a brief overview and point out to read the book. It’s worth it!

Problem Formulation. To describe the problem properly is a vital part of every research. The target of any problem formulation should be the research question. It provides the implications for the next steps and can be used later to evaluate the work. Not only is this commonly the first task in the engaged scholarship process, but also influences it the following ones strongly.

Theory Building. As the theory in engaged scholarship has to be connected to reality, it is very important to choose a fitting one. This usually involves three activities: Conceiving or creating a theory, constructing or elaborating a theory and justifying or evaluating a theory.

Research Design. It is important to understand, that the theory is not the same as the model. A research model instead acts like an instrument to link data with the theory. As theory cannot be observed directly, a research model is designed instead. Dependent on the research question two basic epistemologies can be used. One is the variance model, which is outcome-driven, and the other one is the process model, which is event-driven.

Problem Solving. The researcher’s present is organized that every research leads to a form of written and/or presentation. It is assumed that work will be used, if it is good/influential enough. It can be observed, that much research is hardly used by other researchers (low citations is common) and in practice (difficulties to find and to adopt). The important thing is thus to find appropriate ways to communicate the findings of a research by engaging the intended audience.

While the kind of research that Van de Ven describes as engaged scholarship might be a bit revolutionary for the American information systems research community, this is actually common practice in Scandinavia. Lars Mathiassen and Peter Axel Nielsen analyzed the articles in the Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems (SJIS) and compare their research process to the engaged scholarship process [2]. They found that the Scandinavian IS research tradition is in line with engaged scholarship and many papers applied its values and principles long before the book was published. For further information I would like to refer to the author and his blog entry.

Personally, I enjoyed reading the book. Not only because I noticed to be in an engaged scholarship myself, but also because Van de Ven describes the details of conducting the process in depth and comprehensive.

[1] Andrew H. Van de Ven. »Engaged Scholarship: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research«, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

[2] Lars Mathiassen and Peter Axel Nielsen. »Engaged Scholarship in IS Research«, Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 20, No. 2, Pages 3-20, 2008.

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